Wednesday, October 5, 2011

“T T T; P P P” – Time and Patience – Dogs’ Story

Some years ago in Virginia I was given a piece of good advice by a man who had achieved, over many year, great success in the fields of aviation and real estate. I was expressing my frustration about several building projects in which I was involved at the historic site I managed. He held up his hand, which stopped my griping and said: “Just always remember - T T T, P P P.” I waited for the interpretation and he gave it: “Things Take Time; Patience Patience Patience.”
I was reminded of this recently watching a remarkable event, the 2011 National Sheepdog Trials held at the Strang Ranch in Carbondale CO. This was a new experience for me and had to be reminded these sheep dogs were not of those big shaggy English variety but rather Border Collies, bred and trained for working sheep. Over 200 dogs and their handlers competed for four days. They came from all over the U.S. and Canada. Their subjects were 800 sheep brought down from high country range. The last day competition narrowed down to 14 finalists and involved the following trial, which had to be completed in 30 minutes.

There are two groups of 10 sheep, some distance apart, over 450 yards from the handler and the dog. When the clock starts, the dog speeds off to first the one, then the other of the groups. The object is to bring them together. It is important to understand that the dog’s movements are directed by the handler’s high-pitched whistle and sometimes vocal commands. The handler has to remain at his/her original post. The dog is disqualified by any physical contact with a sheep, such as nipping. Once the flock is gathered the dog must then move it through a number of gates until finally it is pushed into an open circle close to the handler and the spectators.

Here is where the skill and of dog and handler are truly put to the test. Of the 20 sheep, 5 are wearing red collars. The un-collared must be cut out and persuaded to leave the circle, and stay outside, while the handler and dog move the collared sheep into a pen. The handler carries a staff but cannot touch sheep with it. By this time, the clock had ticked down to about, at the most, 14 minutes.

Sheep, especially from the range (as opposed to farm sheep) are not disposed to be moved around. It disrupts their snacking on grass. And to be separated from the others is not the natural state – flocking is. So during this time in the circle sheep want to be either back in the circle or out, and the collared ones don’t like the idea of the pen. In fact, only four of the 17 finalists managed to pen their sheep.

Aside from the amazing talent and training required to reach the level of teamwork dog and handler displayed at these trials, it occurred to me that they both need deep reserves of patience. After all, they are working to get animals to do what they instinctively don’t want to do under constraints of contact rules and a timer.

I won’t go into a metaphorical assignment of roles of the participants of these trials within the context of nonprofits – who are the sheep, dogs, and handlers among nonprofits boards, staffs, CEOs, donors and audience/clients? I will leave that to the reader.

These are the days of instant gratification and demand for quick turnarounds created by e-mail, texting and button-pushing. I am no Luddite ( I do have a Smartphone), but sometimes I miss the rotary dial phone where in the course of dialing, you had time to think about whether you wanted to make the call in the first place. Coca Cola used to have a slogan “the pause that refreshes.” Even in the sheepdog trials, if things were getting very intense, the handler might instruct his dog to break off and lie down for a bit or, if it was hot, jump in a nearby tub. The purpose presumably was to re-group and gain perspective. They both appreciated T T T ; P P P – Things Take Time; Patience Patience Patience, and so should we.